An article in the Wall Street Journal a while back highlighted how corporate training programs are often a waste of time and money. With “little practical follow-up or meaningful assessments,” the article argued, “some 90% of new skills are lost within a year.”
You can debate the validity of the research highlighted in the article if you want, but I know from first hand experience – and you probably do too – that training and education too often gets treated as a “nice to have.” And that viewpoint applies whether you are dealing with a big corporate budgeting department or – more importantly for most edupreneurs – a prospective customer.
I’d argue one key reason is that people question intuitively whether most training and education offerings really have any impact. They suspect just what the Wall Street Journal article suggests: that they are not going to end up with much to show for the time and money that they put into most training and education.
This is definitely not just a corporate problem. Research at my company, Tagoras, shows, for example, that very few trade and professional associations – one of the main sources of adult lifelong learning in many countries – do anything to assess the impact of their educational offerings. Yes, they circulate “smile sheet” evaluations, but these rarely provide any meaningful data about whether learning has actually occurred.
And, because they don’t have any legitimate data about learning, these organizations can’t leverage this data to address any concerns prospective customers may have about the value of their educational offerings.
The situation is no different for your average edupreneur.
As a result, your potential customers may put off buying decisions or undervalue the training and education and shop based on price.
Or, of course, they may choose not to buy at all.
Any of these situations can lead to your fledgling learning business never really getting off the ground. Maybe you make a few sales here and there, but if no one – including you – is able to talk about the success your learners are achieving, you won’t build any momentum or staying power.
Naturally, these are circumstances you want to avoid if at all possible – even more so now that the web has become flooded with online courses. If your goal is to achieve long-term success as an edupreneur, you need to create real impact with your offerings and you need to be able to show that you are creating impact.
3 Keys to Demonstrating Educational Impact
So how can you demonstrate more impact with your learning products?
First of all, of course, you need to develop and facilitate great learning experiences that follow the adult learning principals and solid design approaches I’ve advocated in various places (including, of course, Leading the Learning Revolution). In other words, you need to start with a great product.
But even great products usually need some help when it comes to communicating their value. So, here are three steps to make sure you are taking.
1. Set Clear, Achievable Impact Signals
Don’t over think it. Start by asking yourself: What would be a clear, simple sign that one of your learners has achieved success? What action will he or she take? What event will occur?
I was listening to the Internet Business Mastery podcast (sadly no longer publishing) a while back when it struck me how clearly and powerfully Jeremy and Jason, the hosts of the podcast, have defined the core “impact signal” for their teaching. The key goal they set for their learners is what they call the “money milestone,” meaning the first time a person makes money – any amount of money, however small or large – through selling something on line.
Simple. Highly achievable.
And yet extremely powerful as a sign of impact. Participants in their trainings routinely share the stories of their money milestones.
What would be the equivalent of the money milestone as an impact signal in your market? What small victory will your learners achieve that will feel really big to them? Define it, clearly articulate it … and then move on to the next point.
2. Actively Gather Meaningful Data
As I noted above, the Internet Business Mastery guys routinely get stories from people about their money milestones – and that’s because they ask for them. They know this is a highly meaningful piece of data and they are focused on consistently collecting it from their learners. The data that makes sense in your market may be less anecdotal.
Maybe you need the hard numbers that tracking completion rates (e.g., by using an online course platform) or assessment scores offers.
Maybe it makes sense to send out follow-up evaluations months after a learning experience to determine if learners are actually putting to use what they learn. (To the extent that you make use of evaluations – and I recommend you do – make sure you know how to do it right by first reading Will Thalheimer’s excellent Performance-Focused Smile Sheets: A Radical Rethinking of a Dangerous Art Form. This really is a must-read for every serious edupreneur.)
Whatever the appropriate data is, put the right tools and processes in place to collect … and then move on to the next point.
3. Publish Social Proof
The best way for prospective learners to hear about the impact you are having is from other learners. “Social proof,” as Robert Cialdini labeled it in his seminal Influence: The Science of Persuasion, is a powerful force. People believe what they hear significant numbers of their peers saying or see them doing.
So, spend the time to collect testimonials that communicate the key “impact signals” you have defined for your products.
Ideally, you want at least three testimonials for any major product you offer, and even better, you want these to be testimonials that provide the name of the customer, place of work and title (if your offerings are work-oriented), and a picture or video.
And, you need to actively publish any other meaningful data you collect that show many people are having success with your products. This kind of information needs to be front and center in your promotions.
As simple as all of that sounds, experience has shown me again and again that lack of social proof is the number one mistake that people in the education business make when it comes to promoting their products. It is also among the easiest mistakes to remedy. If you don’t have plenty of testimonials and other social proof for your products, make getting it and communicating it one of your top near-term priorities.
Make Showing Educational Impact a Habit
They say success breeds success. As you are able to gather and share data about student success you will naturally attract more students – and you need top keep gathering and sharing data about their success. Over time, it becomes undeniable that your offerings are definitely not part of the “waste of time and money” the Wall Street Journal describes. They are just the opposite.
Make the above three steps a consistent part of your business practices and you’ll be on your way to demonstrating impact and achieving long-term success as an edupreneur.